Friday, February 26, 2010

In a Rare Move, the EPA Takes Action on “Chemicals of Concern”

The government may finally be listening to citizens’ concerns about the pollution of the environment and associated health risks; the EPA is taking actions that may eventually lead to banning certain chemicals and encouraging “green chemistry.” In late December 2009, the EPA posted action plans to evaluate safety issues concerning phthalates,polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in products, and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). The EPA has authority to regulate chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), but since its inception in 1976, has the dismal track record of removing only five chemicals from the list of over 80,000 being manufactured.

In this rejuvenated interest to protecting Americans’ health, the EPA intends to spend the next several years evaluating the health risks and pervasiveness of the chemicals listed above. These initial evaluations could lead to steps to ban the manufacturing of toxic substances, requiring manufacturers to find safer substitutes.

Phthalates are used in many industrial and consumer products, found in, among other things: toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray, and shampoo. Sadly, many of these products pose potentially elevated and cumulative exposure. Phthalates have been identified in food and in at least one study were detected in every person tested.

The EPA website admits, “Adverse effects on the development of the reproductive system in male laboratory animals are the most sensitive health outcomes from phthalate exposure. Several studies have shown associations between phthalate exposure and human health, although no causal link has been established. Recent scientific attention has focused on whether the cumulative effect of several phthalates may multiply the reproductive effects in the organism exposed.”

Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) are a class of toxic chemicals that have been used as fire retardants in items such as carpet padding, bedding, couches and other foam items. Newer foam-based items are not likely to contain PBDEs, but they are present in those that are a few years old. Electronics contain a specific PBDE called Deca. It is found in TV components, cell phones, remote controls, video equipment, photocopiers, kitchen appliances, fans, heaters, hair dryers, curtains, automobile fabrics, and other sources.

PFCs are found in brands such as Teflon, Stainmaster, Scotchgard, and SilverStone, among others. Non-stick pans, furniture, cosmetics, clothing, packaged food containers, and household cleaners (that are not “natural”) commonly contain this chemical. This chemical is not regulated, so all emissions from manufacturers are legal.

The common thread for these chemicals is that they have all contributed to the ease and convenience of the modern lifestyle. But because of their pervasiveness in a variety of manufactured goods, these conveniences have been created at a great expense to nature and human health. While the EPA embarks on their mission to evaluate the destruction of the environment, citizens can take immediate action by choosing alternatives, such as natural household cleaners instead of chemical based products, glass instead of plastic, and stainless steel rather than Teflon. As consumers vote with their dollars, chemical companies will be forced to be innovative and jump on the green bandwagon.

Check back for more information on keeping the your environment green, and detoxing your way to better health!

Jennifer Morganti, ND

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